Philosophy and thoughts on sculpture
Exhibition ‘A Line in Space’: John Martin Gallery, London 2018
The exhibition ‘A Line in Space’ began with the sculpture Tal. The single loop of material that twists and turns and returns to itself. This form, or concept, seemed worth further exploration. This is therefore the unifying factor about this series of sculptures. They all contain a single loop. As the sculptures are carved from a block there is a large amount of material removed before the sculpture is finished. The negative space grows to be far greater than the positive. I enjoyed the moment when the block becomes forgotten. There is just not enough concentration of marble to remind one that it came from a block. The marble whizzes off into space like a busy blue bottle fly, and yet it stands so still.
These animated forms called for more animated bases. The rectangular base seemed too dull, too earthbound. Most of the carvings are flying above soft lozenge type forms. Lyra sits on a loop, becoming at once figurative. Several stand on bases that are rough on the top. The silky marble cushioned on rough earth. The ethereal and the earthbound. All the sculptures are heavier where they meet the base; greater strength is needed there to hold the sculpture up. This serves visually (to my mind at least) as a sort of transition between the earthbound reality where gravity is king, to space – where fancy can take flight.
“Peers’ latest work sets out to explore the movement of a line freed from the earth, travelling in space like an air current, weightless and uninhibited … Smooth unbroken forms loop through space and hang in the air as if suspended by magic.” Peter Stiles
Exhibition ‘The Space Between’ : CIRCA (now Everard Read), London 2016
This exhibition included more than 20 new works, carved in Carrara or Portuguese marble. The body of work built on concepts explored previously by Peers; a distillation of ideas that are bound together by a simple purity. “I was conscious of not exerting thematic control as I was making these works, but rather trusting an instinct and having faith that by doing so, I was making space for something greater to emerge,” said Peers.
The works are a celebration of form and shape; apparently weightless abstractions that belie the intensive labour and obsessive honing and shaping that gives them their impossibly clean curves. It is as if the stone has absorbed Peers’ fierce concentration and infused the sculpture with energy and movement. Indeed, Peers believes that created objects hold in them, all the industry that went into their production; “Not just the attention that is paid them – but the intention.”
In the catalogue essay which accompanies this exhibition, the writer, Philip Marsden, who has known the artist for some 15 years, says that Peers’ work transcends the hours he spends on each one. “The pieces here are a culmination of all the years of previous work …. of all the rock that has passed through his yard. In their purity they are ageless, and they touch something universal.”
A PDF of the catalogue can be accessed here:
What was the impetus and inspiration for this new exhibition?
Actually it doesn’t really work like this at all for me. However I know there is a common conception that the artist sits up one day and says, “Wow, that’s it, that’s what I must do!” For me the beginning is very small and lost. I scratch about and dig in the marble. I make some things and they start to represent a whole. As the series grows I grow with it - developing confidence and assurance. The stronger ideas are more evident at the end: they want to be made.
Describe the process you go through when creating a sculpture
Firstly I must find the right block. It needs to be the right size to fit the idea. Some marble is very veined which often indicates a weakness; so a highly veined marble might be unsuitable for a sculpture with little stone holding it together.
Once the marble is positioned on the work table I draw or paint the idea on the stone. I then cut out the profile from one direction. After each cut I reapply paint to remind myself what the forms are doing. With a complex form I will make a wax model to help me envisage the sculpture inside the block. As the sculpture progresses the form becomes more visible. I keep cutting away until I have the form that I want. I will often mount the sculpture on its base in order to make the final creative decisions. Finally the sculpture is sanded until the surface is as smooth as is desired.
What do you like most about working with marble?
I think it is hard to move on from marble. It is the perfect material for carving, having little grain. Also, being pure calcium carbonate, marble has no silicates so there are fewer health worries than with most stones.
My work is very concerned with form so I like a material that is not too decorative. Some onyxs, for instance, are very glamorous and need a rather different approach. My sculpture has evolved through working with marble, so any change in material would require a change in my work.
What has been the most challenging part of the project?
Although a project like this is full of challenges, nothing can compare with the challenge of trying to make something wonderful. Searching and striving to find a great idea is the Holy Grail. I find the ideas swim around my head constantly. Sometimes the half-awake moment of dawn brings crepuscular clarity. The world between dreams and wakefulness has been talked of by many as a good time for creativity. I agree with them.
How does the work created for this exhibition relate to, or build, on your previous work?
My last exhibition was very concerned with stacked forms: finding different ways to bring a sculpture to a vertical position. This idea I have largely left behind me. Many of the vertical carvings had a good deal of air in their volumes. This idea is one I have pursued further. Several of the sculptures in this exhibition have most of the volume of the marble reduced, hence the title of the exhibition ‘The Space Between’.
William Peers, 2016
Carvings in Marble: John Martin, 2014
Now that I have completed the work for this exhibition I can stand back and look at it as a body. I can see the direction of travel that has occurred. I do not plan out a series of work in advance, but respond daily to situations as they occur. Making creative decisions on the spot; in the moment.
There has been a ‘device’ I have been employing over the past few years to articulate a joint – in order to change the direction of a piece of marble within a sculpture. It came from the observation of a piece of bent alkathene pipe. Farmers sometimes do this to seal a pipe when there is no tap. Translated into marble simply meant that the crease was all shown on one side of the joint.
I realise now that this exhibition represents a movement on from this device. In this series the articulation is represented by separated sections. The sculptures wobble and twist and generally slim as they rise up from the ground. Repeated units; some circular, some vertical. Sometimes I have enjoyed the hard shadows of square, regular sections. Sometimes my inclination is to carve softer, more natural forms.
William Peers, 2014
100 Days – Sketches in Marble
The idea behind the series was to produce a sculpture a day, for one hundred days, using the same material, marble. The plan was hatched in February 2009, and completed a year later after nine months of work.
One of the motives of the series was the prospect of exploring one hundred ideas in a short period of time. This was in deliberate contrast to a period of working on larger marble sculptures that took months to finish. The notion of a ‘sketch’ in marble is a new one, due to the availability of sophisticated power tools. These tools are a revelation in the respect that they allow exploration of ideas and forms relatively quickly.
By setting a boundary – restricting the time allowed for each piece, and therefore, the size of the work – I found a strange liberation. I soon realised that I couldn’t spend too long at the start of the day thinking, or designing, I had to get on.
I had to take creative risks. The time limit also gave the passing days a rhythm; the process of work began to take on a meditative quality. I also hoped that the constants of time and material may lend the series a unity: the sculptures might be linked by their common constraints.
Another aim for the series was to explore the area between figuration and abstraction. About ten years ago my sculpture shifted away from the figure, in quite a sudden way. Whilst I have enjoyed my lengthy exploration into abstraction, I was left feeling uneasy about the relationship between the two worlds of figuration and abstraction.
Once I started, the enormity of the project became apparent, but I had committed, so I continued. I wondered if I would tire of the project, whether it would hold meaning and interest for me beyond the first weeks. It was hard work but slowly my stamina grew.
‘Day one’ was carved in the warmth of a June day; keeping cool was my problem then, and finding relief from the blinding light of sunshine reflecting off the white marble. I carved through the seasons. By the ‘nineties’ we were snowed in and I was wrapped in layers to keep out the cold, stamping my feet and trying to keep my fingers from going numb.
One hundred sculptures were completed. One hundred days of work. Ten hours of work each day. A thousand hours of work. Small themes came and went. Some held my attention for weeks, others only a day. The sculptures travelled in and out of abstraction. It was wonderful to be uncovering so many ideas in so short a period. However, I also reminded myself of the fact that there was to be no editing of the series; all changes for the better or for the worse would be apparent to the viewer.
I am delighted and a little surprised by the evolutions that took place during the series. I have led myself into new worlds. If I had thought at any point that, aged forty-five, I had sculpturally discovered all I had to discover, then I have been proved wrong. The series clearly shows the dozens of lines of thought that have been explored and the artistic influences that have informed my aesthetic. The lines become more resolute towards the end, and a strong new expression emerges.
Looking at the images of the full one hundred together, this climax is clear and emphatic. In essence, I feel that I am considerably changed from the sculptor I was this time last year.
William Peers, 2010
New Work in Marble
This is a series of works in Portuguese marble from Estremoz, a region I was introduced to by a fellow sculptor. It is an amazing landscape: vast holes in the ground, mountains of spoil and giant blocks of clean sliced marble stacked everywhere. We spent a few days selecting the most interesting pieces – a week later a lorry arrived in Cornwall with eight tons of marble.
Working this beautiful stone has been a wonderful revelation as it behaves so differently to the Hornton stone that I have carved almost exclusively for the last ten years. The marble is denser and harder than Hornton, though easily bruised by careless carving: its translucence is something completely new to me.
The sculptures were created in one long, intense period of work. I like to carve in this way, uncovering the ideas quickly as they arise. One piece naturally becomes an extension or a deviation from the one before and I get slightly intoxicated in my eagerness to uncover the next idea. Seb, my assistant, would consider this a ludicrous understatement: in my enthusiasm I found myself starting up to five sculptures before finishing the first.
During this period of work we were alternately roasted by the sun and soaked by the rain; we spent half our days hauling carvings in and out of the workshop. When the rain is like a fine mist the dust from the marble sticks to everything – especially my hair, where it clings and sets like a 17th century wig.
William Peers, 2007
Shortly after I started to carve in relief there arose the question of how to treat the area behind the figure. Is it landscape? A void? Or does it suspend and animate the figure? Van Gogh’s skies sometimes seem as solid and real as the things below. This background now fascinated me: it was not only important, but everything. It seems to me that we almost cease to exist without that which supports us. The figure dwindled in my interest and affection: it seemed bossy and prescriptive when set against the background, which enigmatically allowed it to be. Yet still I doubted if a carving without the figure could hold sufficient interest.
The last figurative carving I did was of a goat. Following the lines of the hair of the goat with the chisel I became fascinated with those areas where the hair flows meet.
At these junctions the hair swirls and eddies and seems either to come out away from the body, or to swirl inwards like at the corner of the eyes.
This observation became the start for my first series of abstract carvings. Once more I set myself rules to follow. The stone was to be pierced right through in places, creating dramatic dark ‘wounds’ and the surface then treated with the rules decided upon for this particular piece. For instance that the lines should always flow directly away from each edge and that they must spiral into a hole. Curious and unpredicted areas of stillness arise where the carved lines flowing between three or more fissures slide past each other. Conversely, as the surface is worked over it becomes increasingly animated. It amazes me to discover that the natural world is made up of things created through the repetition of a simple set of instructions. Indeed that the creation of such complexity can be derived from a simple process.
William Peers, 2003
Apprenticeship with sculptor Michael Black
Absolutely no one at art school had known how to carve. It was not until five years of post college wilderness had passed by that I began to learn. It happened under the guidance of an eccentric and brilliant man in Oxford called Michael Black. He had sculpted the Emperor’s heads around Sheldonian years before I met him, but now, due to old age and a car accident he needed help with his work.
Michael taught me most of what I know of the craft of carving. He taught me the importance of cutting in dark shadows and how the resulting contrast will seem to pull the lighter areas out towards the viewer.
I learnt the importance of standing back in order to see the work from far off. Under this informal apprenticeship I picked up innumerable subtle things that are impossible to learn any other way.
Michael encouraged me to start my own carving. I had wanted to work before, but the years at college had introduced so many new ideas, so many styles, so many materials that the millions of possibilities and legions of brilliant predecessors made me not only uncertain of how to proceed, but frozen in panic. Eventually I imposed a set of rules in order to cut down the avenues open to me. For instance, in one sculpture I ruled that the carving should only have convex forms. This revealed more possibilities that I would have imagined and where freedom had been overwhelming, the imposed restriction was liberating. These early carvings were figurative; abstraction didn’t come to me until much later and it came unexpectedly.
William Peers, 2003